MONDAY, Feb. 20, 2012 (HealthDay News) -- Obesity becomes more common as successive generations of Mexican-American teens turn their backs on the eating habits of their native country, according to a new study.
The analysis of nearly 2,300 Mexican-Americans aged 12 to 19 who took part in the 1999-2004 U.S. National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey found that those born into second- and third-generation families were more likely to be obese than those who weren't born in the United States (first generation).
Compared to first-generation Mexican-American youth, second-generation youth were 2.5 times more likely to be obese and third-generation youth were twice as likely to be obese, the University of South Carolina researchers found.
The study was published in the February issue of the Journal of Nutrition.
Second- and third-generation Mexican-American youth have diets high in saturated fat and sodium and they consume large amounts of sweetened beverages. Their consumption of fruits, vegetables, grains, meat and beans was lower than first-generation Mexican-American youth.
The researchers said a typical Mexican diet includes corn, beans, meat such as pork and fish, fruits such as pineapple and papaya, and vegetables such as squash and avocado.
"Mexican-American children are disproportionately affected by obesity. This has serious public health consequences because Mexican-Americans are the fastest growing segment of the population. They are a very important population to study," study lead author Jihong Liu said in a university news release.
She noted that many immigrant families can't afford to buy fruits and vegetables and other healthy foods, which are more expensive than less healthy foods.
"Our findings also suggest that policies and programs should be in place to help immigrants protect their traditional dietary practices such as a high consumption of fruit, vegetables, and bread while they assimilate to the American culture and society," Liu said. "Future studies should continue to examine the barriers that Mexican-American adolescents encounter in maintaining their native diet and identify strategies to address those barriers."
Nemours has more on teens' nutritional needs.